Thirteen years ago, my sister was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer called Multiple Myeloma. It’s an aggressive disease that attacks the marrow in the bones, as mutated white blood cells reproduce unchecked, taking up room in the marrow cavity and, in turn, leaving less and less room for normal cells to grow. As these cells continue to multiply, they eventually begin to “eat” their way out of the marrow and through the hard outer surface of the bones, in essence, leaving them looking a bit like Swiss cheese.
She had no idea she was ill, until she stepped out of the shower one morning and fell to her knees, breaking three of her vertebra. She has broken a rib from the simple act of putting on her socks. It is a silent menace and medical science has yet to discover a viable option for treatment; her only hope is that her doctors can continue to manage it long enough for science to catch up.
She has endured high load doses of chemotherapy, on multiple occasions. She has endured radiation, bone marrow and stem cell transplants, and blood transfusions, all to no avail. She was recently told by her doctor that she had two choices: 1.) Stop treatment, move into hospice care, and wait for her life to come to an end, or 2.) Go into the hospital for 30 days, at which point she will be on yet another round of chemo, have another bone marrow and stem cell transplant, and a blood transfusion, all with the hope of getting her white cell count down to a point that she can enter a clinical trial for a new form of drug therapy. Through a long night of tears and prayer, she and her husband actually discussed option number one: she considered giving up. For about a minute, that is. Until she began to think of all she still had to live for–her family, and not the least of all, for herself, for the hope that with this next clinical trial she, at the very least, might be able to break new ground in the search for the cure for this horrific disease. She hopes to buy herself, not years, because with hope, there is also the reality that she has come too far to undo the damage of this disease, but she hopes to gain just a few more months of life, to fulfill a legacy for future sufferers, to pray that what she is doing will lead to viable and workable options for the benefit of future generations who are stricken with Multiple Myeloma.
My sister has taught me a lot over the course of the past thirteen years. She has taught me the true meaning of courage. Not what it means to be free of fear, but what it means to stare at fear head on and keep fighting anyway, even though she knows she can’t win. She has taught me the true meaning of a battle of wills–she’s not willing to die just yet, because she still has so much living to do in whatever time she has left to do it. She has taught me what it means to laugh and to hope in the face of hopelessness, to live like there’s no tomorrow, because tomorrow is never guaranteed. She has taught me the difference between a petty grievance and an honest to gods problem. She has taught me that to feel sorry for myself is a pitiful waste of time and energy.
She has taught me what it means to live for myself, to love others with abandon, to reach out and grab hold of whatever I can find that makes me happy, even if that is nothing more than turning my face to the sun and offering a smile to the blue skies.